College Street, as we sincerely believe, is the biggest hub of publishing and bookselling activities in the eastern part of the country. Earlier, Chitpur and Garanhata was the sanctum sanctorum of vernacular publishing. The place was popularly known as Battala. The rich oral tradition of the folktales of Bengal, typically juxtaposed with traditional yellow-cover-pornography and religious texts, used to be a major attraction for readers in those days. Later, the market was shifted to College Street in keeping with the literary and reformist spirit prevailing in and around Hindu College. The tidal wave of Bengal Renaissance caused some significant reforms in publishing, and bookselling activities as well, under the astute leadership of William Carey and Pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. In course of time, such futuristic ideas of book business culminated into what we call today ‘Boipara’ (the book district) of Bengal.
Boipara of College Street is not only the centre for bookmaking and bookselling, it is synonymous with intellectual literary crosscurrents of contemporary thinkers. Boipara is a place where one can find the Coffee House, ceaselessly vibrating with political arguments, while in the wayside stalls, the incorruptible book lovers are always on the lookout for some hidden treasure in the pile of books. It is a confluence of old books and new ideas. Calcutta University, Sanskrit College, Hindu School and a few other academic institutions impart unparalleled intellectual distinction to the place.
Recently we visited this boipara and met a few bright minds there who are engaged in publishing and bookselling over the years. We had a set of questions and plenty of curiosity in our minds. The most distinguished bookseller in this part of the world is Dasgupta & Company with a rich heritage of a little more than 150 years. Deys Publishing, Ananda Publishers, M. C. Sircar—these three are, unmistakably, icons of Bengali publishing in Bengal. They have backlist of bestsellers at their disposal. Sarat Book House is a meticulously managed literary supplier with specialization in Mathematics and Physics as their area of publishing. At Indiana Bookstore we found a neat pretty bookshop with the latest arrivals from the International market. Chuckerverthy Chatterjee is as spacious as any huge departmental store with well-managed stocks of books on various topics in various languages. Rupa, of course, deserves special mention for its formidable publishing programme in English. Anushtup and Saptarshi are quality-sensitive publishers with sharp eyes on the intellectual heritage of Bengal. Pratikshan has hawk-eyed editorial and production staff to look after the well-produced art books. Punascha, like Dey’s Publishing, has its own binding infrastucture besides the collossal publishing programme aiming at a huge cross-section of readership. Shishu Sahitya Samsad is a name to reckon with in the field of children’s and young adult literature in Bengali and English. Sahitya Samsad is the publisher of the finest dictionaries in the country.
On our way back after visiting these legendary publishing houses we felt as if we were flipping through the pages of a book about Bengal’s ‘unputdownable’ intellectual extravaganza.
Ankhi Sinha Ray